Sony MDR-1A review: An already excellent over-ear headphone gets some small but key upgrades

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The Good The Sony MDR-1A is a relatively lightweight, very comfortable full-size headphone that offers sound that's improved over the MDR-1R's, with better definition from the bass through the midrange to the treble. The headphones now sit on your neck correctly (the earcups rotate the proper direction) and you get two cables, one of which has an in-line remote for smartphones, along with a nice carrying pouch.

The Bad Somewhat pricey; in-line remote lacks some functionality for iPhone users.

The Bottom Line The supercomfortable Sony MDR-1A does a good job balancing clarity with just enough of laid-backness to make it a very versatile headphone that's well worth considering if you're looking for a full-size headphone in the $250-$300 range.

8.7 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Sound 9
  • Value 8

Sony's MDR-1A is the successor to the discontinued MDR-1R , a "premium" over-ear that we liked a lot when we reviewed it a few years ago.

That earlier model was known for being extremely comfortable, and the very similar looking 1A, which costs $300 (£170 UK, AU$400), is even more so, thanks to some small design changes. First, its earcup design is subtly different, with softer padding and cushions that are slightly angled to conform to your head better. The finish on the MDR-1A is also a bit more textured (stippled). It's a minor detail, but I did like it slightly better, but others may prefer the smooth finish of the MDR-1R.

One of the biggest design changes is that the MDR-1A's earcups rotate in an opposite direction from the MDR-1R's. That's a big deal because the headphones can now rest flat (pads down) against your clavicles when you have them sitting on your neck. In other words, they feel a lot more comfortable when you're wearing them around your neck and not listening to them.

What you get in the box. Sarah Tew/CNET

At 7.94 ounces (225 grams) without the cable attached, the MDR-1A is also slightly lighter than the MDR-1R (240 grams), which was already considered lightweight for an over-ear model. The headphone fits snugly but not too snugly and should fit a variety of head sizes well.

The other small design change is to the cable connector on the headphones. On the MDR-1A, the base of the connector is plated with a gold ring. No such ring exists on the MDR-1R.

In terms of accessories, you get two standard length 1.2-meter cables, one of which has a one-button inline remote and microphone. It's geared toward Android phones but also works with iPhones, though in a more limited capacity (no volume controls). If you have Android phone, you can use the free SmartKey app to customize the button controls.

A decent carrying pouch is also included and Sony also sells three optional higher end cables for this headphone if you want to try to eke out even better sound.

The headphones look very similar to the MDR-1R, but have some small design changes, including a slightly more textured finish and even more comfortable earpads. Sarah Tew/CNET

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